KARACHI: The death toll from the Eid holiday drowning tragedy rose to 34 after 11 more bodies were recovered from the Arabian Sea on Friday. Political parties called for an independent inquiry into the incident which, according to a fisherfolk organisation, occurred mainly because of growing human intervention in the sea by the DHA and port authorities.
“We received 11 more bodies late on Thursday night and Friday morning,” police surgeon Dr Jalil Qadir said. The bodies were completely decomposed. Four of the dead were aged between 12 and 13 while the rest were youths.
Most of the relatives took away the bodies without autopsy, except for those of Junaid and his maternal uncle Ghulam Din, whose post-mortem was conducted at JPMC, said Boat Basin police investigation officer Arif Khan.
He said the relatives told police that they had drowned on Wednesday evening, contrasting with the officials’ claim that Clifton’s Seaview beach was closed to public after the drowning incident on the first day of Eid on Tuesday. Most of the deceased belonged to Balochistan, Khyber Pakhtunkhwa, Gilgit-Baltistan and Punjab.
“So far 35 bodies have been recovered,” Commissioner Shoaib Ahmed Siddiqui told reporters at the Clifton beach. Three of them were recovered from Hawkesbay and the rest from Clifton with assistance from the Navy. Two bodies are still to be retrieved.
Mr Siddiqui claimed that Section 144 was imposed on the beach on July 28. He said the authorities were considering declaring the area a “danger zone” and imposing an indefinite ban on swimming in the sea.
IG Ghulam Hyder Jamali told Dawn that he had formed a committee, to be headed by the Karachi police chief, to investigate the incident and submit a report.
He said 1,000 policemen had been posted at Seaview and Hawkesbay to prevent such a tragedy. About 55 police vans are patrolling the two points. The IG said that cases had been registered against 30 people for violating Section 144.
A member of the inquiry committee told Dawn that there were “some gaps in the arrangements usually made during holidays at the beach”.
Policemen riding horses used to warn people against going to the danger zone. The DHA also deploys its guards and vigilance teams for same purpose.
He said the administration used to impose Section 144, but this time it was reportedly not done. Another factor this time is purported desalting at the Clifton beach, which is thought to have increased tidal waves. “These are some of the factors we will look into,” he said.
Pakistan Fisherfolk Forum (PFF) chairman Mohammed Ali Shah said three factors had made the Karachi beach a dangerous point. First, mangroves on the coastal area have been cut. This has intensified tidal waves.
Second, dredging activity by the port authorities and reclaiming of lands by the DHA have increased. The PFF chief believed that there should be no commercial activities in an area within 500 metres from the beach.
Third, police and the administration have failed to make security and other arrangements, especially during holidays and weekends. Mr Shah said this was the season of high tide and additional rescue teams, guards and police should have been deployed at the beach to warn people against swimming.
He said fishermen drowned frequently, but the authorities remained unmoved. So far this year five fishermen have drowned. Last year at least 12 fishermen drowned in Korangi Creek.
Meanwhile, two families are still waiting for the recovery of bodies at Clifton.
Sixteen-year-old Mustafa said the body of his 18-year-old brother Sabir was retrieved on Friday morning and he was now waiting for the recovery of the body of his 16-year-old nephew Hamza, who drowned along with his brother.
Mohammed Ayub said his nephew Habib, 17, had drowned along with his cousin Irfan, 20, whose body was recovered on Thursday. “I am now waiting for the recovery of the body of my nephew,” he added.
They were residents of Baldia Town.
Seaview looked deserted on Friday as roads leading to the point were blocked. Two policemen on horses were seen patrolling the beach while two others were found resting. Labourers were filling trolley of tractor with sands. A camp set up by the authorities near Dolmen Mall for helping relatives of the victims also looked empty.
The MQM’s Khidmat-i-Khalq Foundation also set up a camp and its volunteers were seen distributing food and water among relatives of the victims and others at the beach.
“The drowning incident took place because of negligence and there should be a proper investigation to stop such incidents in future,” deputy convener of the MQM’s coordination committee, Dr Khalid Maqbool Siddiqui, told reporters at the camp.
He said the families of the victims should be compensated, adding that it was a “national tragedy and everyone should realise his responsibility”.
Published in Dawn, Aug 2nd , 2014